The 7th Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II flight test aircraft took to the skies for the first time yesterday, with the overall objective of validating the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant’s weapons suite.
The jet, known as AF-2 and piloted by Lockheed Martin F-35 Test Pilot Jeff Knowles, took off at 5:27 p.m. CDT from Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base and flew for 1 hour.
“The first flight of AF-2 is a significant achievement for the F-35 program, the U.S. Air Force and our international partners who will operate the F-35A,” said James “Sandy” Sandstrom, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 U.S. Air Force Program Manager. “This aircraft is configured to test and verify the multiple weapons loads that will deliver 5th generation combat capability to the warfighter.”
AF-2 will be used to verify the F-35A’s ability to carry both internal and external weapons throughout the required flight envelope. The jet is also the first F-35 to have the internal GAU-22/A 25-millimeter gun system installed. The system, featuring a four-barrel Gatling gun which fires at a rate of 3,000 rounds per minute, is made by General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products in Burlington, Vermont.
Gun testing on AF-2 will be used to confirm predictions of gun vibration, acoustic and recoil loads with the aircraft and various weapons. Additionally, the aircraft will be used to confirm vibro-acoustic loads with the weapons-bay doors open and closed with various weapon configurations. The measurements will validate the structural design of the jet, and provide evidence of the F-35A weapons’ compatibility with gunfire and weapons-bay environments.
Supersonic launch of internal weapons, including maximum-speed (Mach 1.6) launch of internal air-to-air missiles, is a feature of all F-35s. An internal-weapons-only configuration is used when Very Low Observable stealth is required to complete a mission. When VLO stealth is not required, more than 15,000 pounds of additional ordnance can be loaded onto six external pylons.
F-35 test aircraft are supported by the F-35 Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) and managed by the Lockheed Martin F-35 Sustainment Operations Center in Fort Worth. ALIS is the worldwide support system reporting and recording the prognostics and health of all F-35s around the globe to ensure mission readiness.
The F-35 Lightning II is a 5th generation fighter, combining advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations, advanced sustainment, and lower operational and support costs. Lockheed Martin is developing the F-35 with its principal industrial partners, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. Two separate, interchangeable F-35 engines are under development: the Pratt & Whitney F135 and the GE Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team F136.